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Save Barry Town F.C

In the summer of 2010 I happened to find a job advert for a media position at Barry Town FC. Having graduated in sports journalism a couple of months previously and dreaming of a job in football I applied immediately. Having been away in Leeds for the last few years I was not too sure of the current state of the club, but I got a call from Stuart Lovering, the owner of the club, within 24 hours and arranged to meet him.

When I was younger, Barry Town had dominated Welsh football, winning the Welsh Premier League seven times out of eight between 1995 and 2003. I knew they were no longer the unstoppable force they had been, but was truly shocked to see just how far they had fallen down the league pyramid. If I had been shocked then, it was nothing compared to what my first meeting with Mr Lovering.

Within 30 seconds of the ‘interview’ starting he told me I could have the job, but he wasn’t sure when I could be paid. It would “only be a few months” he reassured me. Moving on from this revelation at a rapid pace, he informed me that my job was to increase the stature of the club to be “similar to Galatasary or Fenerbache” and was convinced the club could draw crowds around the same size of Cardiff City, who were attracting at least 20,000 or so for every league match at this time. At this stage I was looking round for the hidden cameras and Noel Edmunds, but this man was actually deadly serious.

I knew little of what had caused Barry to fall so far down the table, and asked him what had been the cause of the fall to the third tier. He looked flustered for a moment, and then proceeded to blame the people of Barry for “forgetting they had a team”. He told me that we would be running a weekly Barry Town newspaper, which would get the people back on board and the club back into the Champions League. If these various bizarre statements were not enough, he then gave me a tour of the ground which left my jaw on the floor for the entire way round.

The place was an absolute tip, which looked like it had not been maintained for several years. A popular song from near enough every set of away fans in Britain says how a place is an *expletive* and “they wanna go home”, but this would never be more true than if they visited Jenner Park. Behind one door was the worlds dirtiest mattress, with a Chinese man wearing only his pants asleep on it. Every room had discarded pizza boxes which suggested this man was not alone in living at the ground. As well as these unexpected tenants, there was evidence of disrepair everywhere you looked, with exposed wiring, rubbish not taken out for months and a balcony which Lovering described as “luxury for special guests”. The only problem was it looked like it would fall down if so much as a mouse stood on it, and had a tree growing out of the middle.

Still, at this stage I was unaware of the full scale of Lovering’s decimation of Barry Town and started to work there. For three days. At this point I was told by text that he had decided to make himself media officer, as he felt he was more likely than me to start getting crowds of 16,000 every week. It was hardly a surprise, it was clear that the only experience Lovering had of running a successful football club was on Football Manager, and he probably wasn’t even very good at that. My bizarre Barry Town experience was over, but the nightmare for Barry Town and their supporters was just getting started.

This brief look into the crazy world of Stuart Lovering gave me a real interest in to just what had happened to the team that had once dominated the Welsh game, and taken on such clubs as Dynamo Kiev, Aberdeen, Boavista and even FC Porto as recently as 2000 in the Champions League. After beating FK Shamkir of Azerbaijan in the first qualifying round, Barry were beaten 8 – 0 in front of 55,000 people in Porto, but pulled off a sensational 3 – 1 victory in the return leg. They may have been convincingly knocked out of the competition, but it remains one of the best results every achieved by a Welsh side.

I discovered that the problems for Barry began shortly after this triumph, with the 500 people turning up to home games not enough to pay the spiraling costs the football club was incurring and the professional wages they had to pay. The so called ‘football troubleshooter’ Kevin Green was hired to find a way to save Barry from financial oblivion, but his various plans did little to stop the steady decline. The last roll of the dice for Green was to bring in a new high profile chairman, former Wimbledon and England striker John Fashanu, who was also famous for hosting Gladiators with his “awooga!” catchphrase.

Many fans felt that this would save the club and the celebrity influence of Fashanu would turn things round. ‘Fash’ made a number of promises, including foreign investment through TV deals in other countries (sound familiar?) such as China and many across Africa. To help promote the club to these markets Fashanu signed a significant amount of Nigerian footballers. The attempts to take Barry Town international never really took off, and in 2003 he left the club after appearing on reality TV show “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here”.

By 2003, the debts faced by Barry Town were over £1,000,000. While most English Premier League clubs would dream of only having this sort of debt, the figure was truly monumental for a Welsh top flight side. The club was once again top of the league, but plunged into administration, with every player on the books leaving the club. They were replaced by amateurs, the majority had previously been playing in divisions five or six tiers below this level. From topping the league, weeks later they were losing 8 – 0 away to Caernarfon Town. With Barry circling the drain and fans desperately trying to raise money to save the team, the now infamous Stuart Lovering stepped in. He paid an estimated £125,000 to take control of the club and pay off a C.V.A that was in place.

If anyone saw Lovering as a savior, they were to be extremely disappointed. The money problems were far from resolved, and in the Welsh equivalent of Manchester United dropping to the Championship, Barry Town were relegated. A year later, Barry went down again. This was the lowest the club had ever fallen since formation in 1912, and marked the darkest days yet in the fall and fall of Barry Town. Worse still was to come, when the club found it could no longer afford to pay the rent at their spiritual home of Jenner Park. This resulted in almost a year and a half of Barry Town being forced to play their ‘home’ games in Treforest, around 20 miles drive away from Barry. This lasted from January of 2005 until May 2006, when the team were finally allowed to return.

Thus followed a period of relative stability, although still far more turbulent than the supporters of most clubs would ever have to experience. In 2007 popular manager Gavin Chesterfield came in and got the club promoted back to the second tier. Despite this on field success, Lovering decided to put the club up for sale with a ridiculous asking price of £195,000. This is £70,000 more than he paid for the club which had been top of the Premier Division with the best squad in the league. Despite these expensive demands, a deal was almost done to sell the club to Clayton Jones, owner of a coach travel company. This deal fell through at the last minute, and Stuart Lovering’s reign of terror went on.

Despite the fantastic job done by Gavin Chesterfield, he was briefly forced out of the club by Lovering in 2010 and joined Haverfordwest in the Premier Division. Chesterfield has since returned, and is helping Barry maintain a promotion push this season. With the club looking to take back their rightful place in the top flight, Stuart Lovering struck again. The running costs of the club have been funded by supporters for the last two years, with the players playing for nothing more than pride and the love of the club. This means Barry Town has not been costing Lovering a penny, yet he decided at the end of October 2012 that he wanted to kill the club for good.

He announced that he would withdraw the club from the league in December if they were not sold, and appointed himself club secretary to give himself the power to do this. From their glory days taking on Porto and the rest of Europe, Barry Town could soon be no more. The people of Barry have fought for many years to save their team, not taking the easy option of supporting a team on SKY, watching nearby Cardiff City push for promotion or traveling a little further for the bright lights of Premiership football in Swansea. These people deserve a football club to support for their commitment, but they are in the position where 100 years of Barry Town rests on the whim of one man. If Stuart Lovering decides to kill Barry Town, he can.

If this nightmare situation comes to pass for Barry Town, the world of football will barely notice. The breaking news banner at Sky Sports News will no doubt have a new £200,000 a week contract or Wayne Rooney’s latest haircut to discuss, while Barry Town become a distant memory. As the lights go off at Jenner Park, the remark of passersby will be “there used to be a football club over there”. It doesn’t have to end this way for Barry Town. The club can be saved, along with dozens of other clubs in the same situation. For this to happen, the story of Barry Town has to be told and the madness of Stuart Lovering exposed. Someone out there can make a difference and give the people of Barry back their club. The soul of football lives on in clubs like Barry, a soul that cannot be allowed to die. Clubs with generations of history are being allowed to slide into nothingness for the cost of a couple of days wages for a Premiership footballer. Barry Town celebrate their 100 year anniversary this year. Without the help of the football community, there will not be an 101st.

Save Barry Town. Save football.

The Stand Up For Barry Town movement is on Twitter at @StandUpForBarry, using the hashtag #SaveBarryTown

Against Modern Football?

Against Modern Football. It’s a slogan that is becoming increasingly frequent from football fans. It’s on banners, it’s on t-shirts, it’s on stickers and the #againstmodernfootball hashtag updates at around the same rate as swear words on Piers Morgans interactions. Are the jibes at the modern game justified? In this piece I look at the good, the bad and the ugly of modern football, before coming to a decision once and for all about the modern-day version of the ‘beautiful game’.

The Good

Holmesdale Fanatics – Crystal Palace F.C

Glance at any social media website during a televised game featuring a European club and it’s likely you’ll see numerous envious comments on how good the atmosphere is. Manchester City recently took on Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, with the magnificent travelling support winning universal praise. I was lucky enough to be in attendance, and for long spells of the game my attention was drawn away from the action on the field to watch in admiration as BVB put on a masterclass in football support.

While people are rightly quick to praise the fantastic atmosphere on display from many Europeans clubs, and bemoan the fact British football cannot produce something similar, attempts to do something about it are widely mocked. Crystal Palace established the Holmesdale Fanatics in 2005, looking to improve the atmosphere off the field and inspire the team. Rather than taking Crystal Palace as an inspiration, many fans deride them. I will admit that the ‘Next stop – Wembley Park’ banner displayed at the Carling Cup Semi-Final had the desired response in winding me up, but the Palace ultras group have outdone themselves in recent weeks.

First of all a banner displayed against Cardiff City, saying what many fans of the team formerly known as Bluebirds felt but were not allowed to express:

This was followed by a true work of art for the visit of their South London rivals Millwall

For anyone who doesn’t understand the presence of the Turkish flag, it’s a reference to Millwall’s charming habit of displaying this particular item when they play Leeds United (more on them later) regarding the deaths of two of their supporters in Istanbul.

The Palace supporters are not just about clever banners and bed sheets with evocative slogans on them. They are an ever-expanding group of fans who support their team for 90 minutes in a passionate and non violent way. The support is highly organised, coordinated and you better believe they’re loud. The support Palace fans gave their side away at Charlton on a televised game this season looked more like something produced by an Italian ultras group. A lot of teams could learn from Crystal Palace, with similar fans groups offering Britain the chance to savour the atmosphere which was once the envy of Europe. The term ultras is seen by many as a negative thing with hooligan connotations, you only have to take a trip to Selhurst Park to see that this is not true.

Safe standing trials

Many modern-day football fans will never have experienced the thrill of a terrace, especially those in the higher divisions. Fortunately for me Cardiff played at Ninian Park up until 2009 and therefore I was able to stand on both the Bob Bank and the Grange End Terrace. Many fans of a similar age to me will not have been so lucky, with their experience of the terraces nothing more than nostalgic stories from their older counterparts. However, the days of standing up to watch football in Britain could be coming back. This Hull City statement on safe standing is non-committal, but is certainly promising for fans who dream of seeing a return to terraces in Britain. The Bundesliga and other leagues around Europe show it can be done, and with the recent Hillsborough report confirming what all decent people knew anyway, that Liverpool fans were totally free from blame for the disaster there. With this report now out in the open, there is no legal or sensible reason to oppose standing.

Aston Villa have also confirmed they are interested in trialling safe standing areas, with the Football Supporters Federation continuing their superb work campaigning for the rights of the average football fan.

The folding seat system used by German teams, allowing them to comply with UEFA competition regulations where standing is banned.

The revival of Portsmouth and Rangers

After deciding to boycott Cardiff City for their rebranding exploits, I received roughly 23,039,924 tweets asking if I would “rather be like Rangers or Portsmouth?”. The answer was yes then, and even more so now. Rangers sit proudly on top of the league, breaking records for attendances with their heritage and tradition well and truly in tact. Meanwhile on the south coast, Portsmouth look set to be taken over by the supporters trust. While they still face the possibility of a ten point deduction which would send them crashing down the table, they currently find themselves just outside the playoffs and defying their labels as relegation fodder for yet another season.

There’s no doubt it will be a long road back to the top for these two clubs who battled extinction, but it will be done in the right way. No ‘fusions of cultures’ or ‘expensive principles’ for these two. Rangers will surely be back in the SPL within a few years, having served their punishments for allowing themselves to get into such a financial mess. Celtic and the majority of Scottish football will have a good old laugh at them while they get back to where they belong, but the fact is Rangers and their supporters are facing up to the situation they find themselves in with pride and dignity.

The Bad

“Finishing in the top four is like a trophy”

A group of Arsenal fans are unhappy with the way money is being favoured over trophies

Arsene Wenger insisted at the Arsenal AGM that finishing in the top four was the same as a trophy and a higher priority than both the League Cup and the FA Cup. The League Cup (sorry sponsors, I refuse to call it the Capital One Cup) is treated as an annoying distraction, to the stage where teams are actually mocked for trying hard in the competition and trying to win it. With the exception of the untouchable Alex Ferguson, it is likely that a manager of one of the title contending sides would be sacked if it was the only silverware in the cabinet at the end of the season.

The League Cup being treated poorly is one thing, but the FA Cup is another. The day Cardiff City reached the FA Cup Final was the proudest day of my football life (not to mention the drunkest), with FA Cup final day another football tradition suffering in the modern game. Far from it being the most special day of the season, with build up from the crack of dawn culminating in a showpiece event, it is now not even the only game of the day. Premiership and Football League fixtures take place alongside the cup final, while sponsorship of the competition means managers, players and pundits are being forced to call it ‘The FA Cup with Budweiser’ with widespread ugly branding detracting from the tradition of the trophy.

Nobody dreamed of scoring the goal that secured fourth place for their team as a child, just as fans don’t line the streets to watch their team parade a giant number four from an open top bus. The solution of course is to award the winners of the domestic trophies a Champions League place, but it is a footballing tragedy in itself that players and clubs should need an additional motive to win a trophy.

Cardiff City playing in red

You probably knew this one was coming. It’s just wrong, and it always will be. Reluctantly accepting the rebrand is one thing, but those people old enough to know better who have actually bought a red shirt need to have a serious word with themselves. This may well be the season that Cardiff City go up to the Premier League, and sadly many people will say the change was worth it if they do so. I believe, along with a dwindling group of others that any victory which involved selling your pride is no victory at all. I also strongly disagree with the franchise in Milton Keynes continuing to use Dons in their name, despite having no connection to the Wimdledon FC side which owned that nickname. MK Dons should change their name to something which leaves the soul of Wimbledon at rest, or better still fold completely and remove their ugly stain from the world of football.

The Ugly

Racism in football

I have worked out that at a rough estimate I have attended around 450 football matches in my life so far. If chants about an inappropriate lust for sheep are discounted, I have only witnessed three instances of racism at these games, with one of these being Montenegro supporters against Ashley Williams for Wales. I won’t mention the names of the teams involved in the other incidents as I don’t wish to label all their fans as racists, these were isolated incidents from a few moronic individuals.

While the racism in British football crowds is nothing compared to that in Eastern Europe, when Liverpool and Chelsea fans are complaining about the bans given to their players for racial abuse there is clearly a problem. If a fan shouted similar disgusting language they would be banned from every football ground in the country for at least  three years, if not for life. While players can get away extremely lightly with saying such dreadful things on the football pitch, the problem is not going to go away. By not making an example of John Terry and Luis Suarez, young supporters are not getting the message that racism is unacceptable. Rightly or wrongly, young people idolise footballers. When star players at clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea can get away with such actions, how can the FA claim to be combatting racism?

The recent events in Serbia which saw Danny Rose racially abused while playing for England U21’s rightly shocked the nation. However every weekend, players found guilty of racism will run out to play in English football stadiums. The racism in Eastern Europe is often appalling  but our own house is far from in order.

Character assassination of Leeds United

Aaron Cawley shames himself, not Leeds United

The Friday night encounter between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United produced a number of incidents the likes of which are normally only seen in Britain during terrible Danny Dyer films. A smokebomb was thrown on the pitch after the opening goal for Wednesday (worst of all, it wasn’t even the right colour), chants related to the deaths of two Leeds supporters in Istanbul and rival supporters attempted to get at each other in the corner of the stadium. All of this was bad enough, but the headline moment was still to come.

Leeds United scored a fantastic equalising goal with the clock running down to the end of the game. It was the kind of strike that sends away fans a special kind of loopy, with people who really shouldn’t have their tops off in public and multiple bruises on the shins from colliding with seats. However, a section of the Leeds fans took it too far, in particular Mr Aaron Cawley. Having invaded the pitch, he shamefully hit Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland with both hands in the face. A dreadful incident and no mistake, but the widespread outpouring of abuse towards Leeds which resulted was totally uncalled for. Walk down any busy high street in Britain on a Friday night and you’ll see incidents ten times worse than this one.

Dave Jones has faced some awful chants after the false allegations against him and I can only imagine what it would be like to go through his terrible ordeal. Having said that, labeling every Leeds fan as a “vile animal” and calling for them to be banned from every away game was simply unacceptable. In 2006, Cardiff City supporters were banned from attending a fixture away at Wolves. The club statement at the time backed by every member of staff said this move “detracts from any system of natural justice.” The Cardiff City manager at the time? Dave Jones. Aaron Cawley is a thug and an idiot and anyone who went on the pitch will probably regret their actions for three years or so when they pick up their banning orders. Despite these blemishes, over 5,000 Leeds supporters backed their team immaculately during the game. Leeds United have an away support which put most sides to shame, supporting their local team loudly and proudly. Dave Jones and the media should not allow the Aaron Cawleys of the world to stop the decent law-abiding fan from being allowed to display their passionate support. Watching football is not a crime. Dave Jones, many media sources and the ‘we all hate Leeds scum’ Twitter masses would do well to remember that.

Ticket prices and kick off times

When six non-league clubs charge more for their cheapest season ticket than the Premier League winners, then you know something has gone seriously wrong with football. The lowest cost of a ticket to every Manchester City home game is £275, with Blue Square Bet Premier clubs Alfreton Town, Barrow AFC, Forest Green Rovers, Gateshead, Macclesfield Town and Newport County all charging figures in excess of this.

Move up a tier into League Two and there are even more clubs charging more than the Manchester club, including rock bottom of the Football League Barnet. It is these smaller clubs who need the revenue from their fans who attend matches more than ever, no money spinning tours to the Far East for these guys. Yet how can the likes of Barnet stop potential fans from spending their money on an Arsenal shirt instead of getting them through the turnstiles at Underhill if they charge such ridiculous prices? This is no dig at Barnet or any of the other teams listed here, they are forced to charge this kind of figure because of the obscene money in the sport. When clubs are threatened with going out of business for less money than Wayne Rooney makes in a day, it’s clear that football is in the process of eating itself.

For the fans who can still afford to go to matches, the next hurdle put in their way are the increasingly ridiculous kick off times for television. This includes putting the Swansea vs. Cardiff derby at 11:20am for SKY coverage, while fans of teams such as Newcastle and Sunderland often have to leave for away games at the time most people are going to bed due to early Sunday games. Support one of the more attractive sides for television coverage such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool and you may as well make alternative plans for pretty much every Saturday afternoon all season, as the game will be shifted to an inconvenient and often ungodly hour. The fans will go along with this due to the sheer loyalty to their teams, whereas they would have been driven from any other business long ago. This level of dedication shows why a football supporter should not be treated like a customer. After all, nobody ever got a tattoo to show their love of their favourite supermarket or named their child Subway.

One day in the distant future the common football fan will take back the game. Clubs such as AFC Wimbledon, Wrexham, Portsmouth and S.V Austria Salzburg will be seen as the inspiration. Supporters will be valued over merchandising contracts and TV deals, and the game will once again be beautiful. Sadly I can only see this outcome arriving once many clubs have collapsed under the financial pressures that come with modern-day football. The sport is not all bad, and the promise of a return to standing and the attempts of clubs like Crystal Palace show that I am not the only football supporter who believes they were born in the wrong generation. The standard of football itself is usually good, and you’d have to either be an emotionless robot or a Manchester United fan to have not screamed like a girl when Sergio Aguero won the title in the dying seconds of last season. Despite this, the value of money over success and the treatment of a match going supporter as an annoyance rather than as essential, means I have to agree with the many groups around the world who display banners in various languages against the modern game.

No Al Calcio Moderno

Gegen Den Modernen Fußball

Against Modern Football